Reverse culture shock: daily schedules

One of the huge differences we’ve experienced in our overseas move has been in daily schedules.

If you had told me last year I would be rising every day before the sun shines, I might have laughed, yet as I drive to work in the mornings, I often enjoy spectacular sunrises and arrive at work with the sun fully risen. Breakfast is eaten and coffee is drunk before I would have been crawling out of bed back in Spain. I’m also dressed in office attire—something I never would have done working from home.

Lest you judge me as lazy in Spain, let me remind you that the schedules are different because of cultural differences. In Spain, I would rarely be in bed before midnight, and I worked all day long.

As for lunches at 12:00 noon and dinners at 6:00, we’re fairly well acclimated at this time. In Spain, we seldom ate lunch before 1:30 p.m. and that was our heaviest meal. Supper would be after 8:00 p.m. We were in the habit of enjoying a fruit snack in the late afternoon around 5:00 p.m. Needless to say, our meal schedule has drastically changed. I am still trying to get portions correct and trying not to “die of starvation” because my main meal isn’t in the middle of the day. (By the way, the secret is to drink more water. It works very well.)

Normal work hours are 8:00-5:00 with a one-hour lunch break. In Spain, work hours vary, but many companies allow a three- or four-hour break for lunch. After all, it’s the main meal, followed by a siesta. Blessed custom!

One of the men in our church in Spain didn’t even think about supper until 11:00 p.m. Swanky restaurants open around 10:00 p.m. and more everyday restaurants at 8:00. Here, supper is served as early as 4:00 p.m., and many restaurants close by 10:00. It’s another world.

Another popular Spanish custom is the eating of many mini meals. A typical Spanish eating schedule looks like this:

  • Breakfast, 9:00 a.m.: coffee or hot chocolate with cookies that resemble Graham crackers
  • Almuerzo (morning snack), 11:00 a.m.: sandwich
  • Dinner 1:30 or 2:00 p.m.: main meal of the day, usually two courses, always accompanied by a hunk or two of fresh bread
  • Merienda (afternoon snack), 5:00 p.m.: Most children eat chocolate or chorizo sausage sandwiches or a yogurt. Many adults eat fruit.
  • Supper, 8:00 for early birds, later for most: Some Spaniards eat full meals, but many eat lighter in the evening than at midday. Exceptions are when eating in a restaurant. That meal would be several courses and very filling.
  • Tapas, served almost any time of day, especially in the evenings. People can go to cafeteria-like restaurants and pay for small-portion tapas. Usually, they include some kind of bread, meat or fish, and are beautifully decorated. They can also be mushrooms with garlic sauce or a tiny casserole of chicken livers. Many people socialize over several kinds of tapas in one night, grazing from restaurant to restaurant over the course of the evening. 

We used to marvel that we almost never saw obese Spaniards, because many eat five times a day. The key to success is in a lot of physical activity, especially walking, and in portion control. Also, few Spanish people eat sweet desserts. When they do indulge, it is a tiny scoop of ice cream or a barely sweet pastry. Many eat fruit, cheese, or a yogurt after dinner.

Wherever you live in the world, and whatever the cultural time schedule for work and meals, you can depend on one thing: God wants you to use your time wisely.

The wisest man that ever lived wrote, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

These principles are in the New Testament: What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

This next verse is about our testimony to others, those who watch our lifestyle: Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time (Colossians 4:5). It doesn’t matter if we eat at 5:00 or at 8:00. What matters is that we live to the glory of God and that we’re careful of our testimony before others.

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12).

May the Lord give us discernment, knowing that everything we have is a gift from God.

4 Replies to “Reverse culture shock: daily schedules”

  1. This reminds me of how when we were living in Cabo Verde, west Africa, we also had to adjust to a later supper time and when we went over to other people’s homes , to a “heavy” lunch. In the USA we have a heavy supper, and of course the same heavy meal only on Sunday’s for lunch which we call ” Sunday dinner “. I am from Virginia so this could just be a southern thing. Lol It was interesting to hear how you lived in Spain and the differences. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is interesting to read for a few reasons-I love learning about cultures, and this especially reminded me of my trip to Spain 19 years ago. It’s also interesting because I’ve been trying to explain this concept to my Spanish students (I teach in a small Christian school). I recall eating supper on the beach at midnight once while we were there-my students couldn’t fathom that, because they were picturing getting up for a typical American morning schedule. This is a good reminder of the many ways to pray for missionaries and others adjusting to a cross cultural move. This filled in some gaps for me in understanding-would you allow me to share this with my students?

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